We live in information-soaked times, thanks to the Internet and all the rallying around freedom of sharing online. But, as a lot of people have begun to realise, distilling all that we have at our fingertips into knowledge is not an easy task, let alone a natural corollary of technological developments. This is why the archive, as a source of collation and dissemination, has found renewed space in a digital world.

Joining the ranks of a burgeoning class of e-initiatives is Osian’s, Neville Tuli’s art and auction house. With the launch of osianama.com, “the biggest free-of-cost access search engine in South Asia dedicated to visual arts and cinematic history”, as he put it, Tuli has unlocked the first door to a lifelong “dream” – that of building a ‘university’ for the promotion of the arts.

“As a nation, we lack confidence in our own abilities – this is apparent in the neglect towards institutionalisation of our heritage and in the lack of respect for history. With Osianama, we take our first step towards changing how we educate people,” said Tuli by way of unveiling the website, which is slated to be operational before March this year.

What makes it more than just an online display is the context they afford to the items. For instance, a selection of posters and stills from Ashok Kumar movies… is accompanied by a study of his career.

From the look of it, osianama.com is more a digital archive than a ‘search engine’, with a focus on nine specific categories: antiquities, fine arts, books, cinema, crafts, events of importance in the art world, economic events, photography and printmaking. Tuli said that they will be unveiling the online project in four phases, the first being a comprehensive collation of data in the above-mentioned categories, followed by a shift in focus towards architectural heritage of India.

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Jawaharlal Nehru Announcing Gandhiji’s DeathIn the third phase, they plan to introduce educational courses, curated and designed by the organisation itself. “We are also visually illiterate – just look at the images we use in our textbooks to see how insensitive we are to images. Also, education is not a bottoms-up process; it has to flow down from the highest point. The infrastructure won’t change unless the finest minds on the subject do not come here,” rued Tuli.

A cursory browse through the website reveals a small but growing, collection of art, related information and memorabilia, culled mostly from Osian’s own archives so far. What makes it more than just an online display is the context they afford to the items. For instance, a selection of posters and stills from Ashok Kumar movies – Sangram, Bandhan, Jhoola and Mahal, to name a few – is accompanied by a study on how his career, spanning over 60 years, went ‘beyond chemistry’ with most of his leading ladies, ensuring that his transition into the patriarch of Bollywood was smoother.

A painting by R. A. Henry Singleton, The Last Effort and Fall of Tippoo Sultan, circa 1800Similarly, a series of artworks by F N Souza or M F Husain are put up in the same space as Calcutta Art Studio’s magnanimous poster of Ma Kali and profiles of feminine cinematic icons from Bollywood, drawing focus to the female form and how it has been a site of constant interpretation and inspiration through artistic history.

But Tuli adds that this is not to be an isolated project because “the virtual world can only be one half of the jigsaw”. Osian’s is also launching a publishing and design house, under the aegis of which the first project will be a hundred books in honour of Indian cinema’s first centenary celebration. The auction house is to revive operations as well, beginning with one on 9th February at The Imperial hotel. Throw in the Cinefan film festival and the Osianama museum (which has been in the offing for over a year now, but will be operational soon, according to Tuli), and their objective of “opening the world to the public” seems to be taking shape.

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